Proceedings of the Special Senate Committee on
Senate Reform

Issue 5 - Evidence - (Evening meeting)

OTTAWA, Thursday, September 21 2006

The Special Senate Committee on Senate reform met this day at 6:32 p.m. to consider the subject matter of Bill S-4, to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure) and the Motion to amend the Constitution of Canada (Western regional representation in the Senate).

Senator Daniel Hays (Chairman) in the chair.


The Chairman: Honourable senators, I declare the meeting now open. I have the minister's presentation in French and, with your permission, I will ask the clerk to distribute copies of it.

This is the last meeting in this phase of the work of our Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform. I would like to welcome our guests and our viewers.

Before giving the floor to the minister, who will be our last witness, I would like to thank all those who have taken part in our hearings and those who have supported us, in particular our clerk, Cathy Piccinin.

This evening, we have the great privilege of welcoming the Honourable Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. We are eager to hear what you have to say about this subject. Before you go ahead, however, I would like to ask the deputy chairman whether he has anything to add.

Senator Angus: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would simply like to add a few words to what has already been said by our distinguished chairman, Senator Hays from Calgary. As a senator from la belle province of Quebec, I am particularly pleased to welcome you here this evening, Minister, as the last witness to appear before this committee, which is dealing with issues that are both academic and political. We will listen to what you have to say with great interest.

The Chairman: Minister, you have the floor.

Hon. Benoît Pelletier, Minister responsible for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Government of Quebec: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Senate, I would like to first thank you for your invitation to take part in your work. The Government of Quebec does not usually appear before the federal Parliament, but circumstances do arise where its seems necessary to come and express our position on an important issue.

I am therefore here today to speak on behalf of the Government of Quebec, because the legislative intentions announced by the federal government involve an institution, the Senate, whose basic composition is inherent to the very basis of the compromise that created the federation.

There is a great deal of value in the Senate as a parliamentary institution. Although its contribution to the federal legislation process is little known, it does play an important role in the Canadian parliamentary system. The Government of Quebec is quite open to the idea of modernizing this institution.

Your committee is charged with considering Bill S-4 on Senate tenure. This legislation amends section 29 of the 1867 Constitution Act by creating an eight-year term replacing the appointment for life with mandatory retirement at the age of 75 that currently exists for senators.

The Government of Quebec has no objection to this proposal as a limited change to be made to the Senate. We do believe, however, that the new eight-year term should not be renewable, so as to guarantee the independence of senators from the federal executive branch.

That said, the Government of Quebec is aware that Bill S-4, according to statements made in relation to the bill, is being described as basically a first step.

When the bill was introduced, the leader of the government in the Senate indicated that Bill S-4 was an important first step toward a longer-term objective of bringing about major Senate reform. We do not know exactly what those major reforms will be. However, we do believe that they would be brought in gradually, and consist of a set of proposals.

We also understand that the second step of this incremental approach would be another bill, following this one on Senate tenure, that would involve the federal government changing the way that senators are selected. Prime Minister Harper, when he appeared before this committee on September 7, stated:

... the government will introduce a bill in the House to create a process to choose elected senators.

The exact details of that legislation are not yet known, and some federal statements on the specific mechanism to be set up have been somewhat ambiguous. That said, the election of senators seems to be under serious consideration as a unilateral change.

Mr. Chairman, this unilateral federal power is by definition limited in our system of federalism. That was very well explained by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Reference on the Upper House handed down in December 1979. I would like to mention some of the major principles expressed in that opinion, which was an important step in Canadian constitutional thinking.

The court began by setting out the limitations of federal legislative powers over institutions, then provided for in former subsection 91(1) of the 1867 Constitution Act. That amending power was:

... limited to that which concerns only the federal government. [This power] of the federal government relating to the Constitution deals with matters concerning only that government.

The court found in particular that the various ways in which the federal legislative competence over institutions — which was introduced into the Constitution in 1949 — as it was exercised at that time, dealt only with issues that were unlikely to have significant repercussions on federal-provincial relations.

The possibility of implications for federal-provincial relations is one of the important premises used by the court to conclude that the federal unilateral power was limited. The implications were seen by the court to include not only an amendment to the formal division of powers, but also changes to the institutional structure through which overall federal legislative competence is exercised. That competence is very broad and could have repercussions on provincial autonomy. This structure may be at issue when the Senate is under consideration.

Another point made in the Supreme Court opinion was that matters that were part of the federal compromise were not under unilateral federal competence. The court held that the Senate, in its essential elements, is part of that compromise underpinning the Canadian federation. Quebec agrees with that view.

The court showed that the Senate is not simply a federal institution in the strictest sense. As the court stated:

... the Senate has a vital role as an institution that is part of the federal system.

The federal institutions created in 1867 therefore express the federal pact itself through their basic features. So it is to be expected that a province will take an interest when there is any question of changing those basic features. That fact was reiterated recently by the Council of the Federation, which reminded the federal government that the provinces must be involved in reforms that deal with major aspects of key Canadian institutions such as the Senate.

The Senate's original role in defending regional and provincial interests is another factor noted by the Supreme Court in finding that there were significant limits on the federal Parliament's authority to legislate regarding the Senate. Regional and provincial interests are one and the same where Quebec is concerned, since it is considered a distinct region in the Senate. Those interests also take on special meaning in relation to Quebec's national identity and the Canadian duality. George Brown, one of the Fathers of Confederation, indicated in the pre-Confederation debates that:

The very essence of our compact is that the union shall be federal and not legislative. Our Lower Canada friends have agreed to give us representation by population in the Lower House, on the express condition that they shall have equality in the Upper House. On no other condition could we have advanced a step and, for my part, I accept this in good faith.

It is clear that any Senate reform needs to be in keeping with the original intention for an Upper House that would represent regional, provincial and minority interests and in which the Canadian duality would also be reflected.

Finally, in the Reference on the Upper House, the Supreme Court explicitly identified three aspects of the Senate that, among others, constitute basic features of the institution.

The powers of the Senate are the first aspect. They are at the very core of the purpose and existence of the institution.

Regional representation is a second basic feature of the Senate mentioned by the Court, which indicated that such representation:

... was one of the key elements of the Upper House when it was created. Without it, the basic character of the Senate as part of the Canadian federal system disappears.

The third basic feature of the Senate concerns the way in which senators are selected. The Court indicated:

Substituting a system to elect rather than appoint senators would be a radical change in the nature of one of the Houses of Parliament. The preamble to the [1867 Constitution] Act talks about "a Constitution based on the same principles as that of the United Kingdom," where the Upper House is not elected. By creating the Senate in the way it is laid out in the Constitution, those who designed it clearly wanted a completely independent institution that could impartially review the measures adopted by the House of Commons. That was achieved by having the members of the Senate appointed for life. If the Senate was made into a wholly or partially elected body, a fundamental aspect of it would be changed.

The Court therefore gave its opinion on an elected Senate by stating that the Upper House, as an appointed body with the role of providing legislative oversight, was constitutionally protected. The current means of selection, which is that senators are appointed rather than elected, stems from a fundamental and deliberate choice by the Fathers of Confederation. Before 1867, the province of United Canada experimented with an elected Senate. So it was with full knowledge that the Fathers of Confederation decided not to continue with that model.

Those initial constitutional choices were then brought into the modern era in the 1982 Canadian Constitution, which confirmed the intangible character of the three key essential features of the Senate that were described in the Supreme Court opinion, that is, the powers of the Senate, the distribution of seats and the way in which senators are selected, which is a broad concept that is probably not limited to the power of appointment.

The Reference on the Upper House is therefore still relevant in the context of the 1982 Constitution Act. It expresses the broad considerations involved in exploring ideas to reform basic features of an institution like the Senate. This is a complex constitutional environment that is tied to considerations underlying the federal compact itself, implications for federal-provincial relations, the diversity within the federation and the exercizing of powers within the federal Parliament.

The idea of turning the Senate into an elected House, while praiseworthy, illustrates that complexity because of its predictable impact.

One impact would be the balance of relations within the federation. Moving to an elected Senate is not neutral in terms of its effect on federalism. There are implications for the role of the provinces in inter-governmental relations. The federal Parliament would likely claim increased legitimacy, but the change would not necessarily mean that provincial interests were better represented. Newly elected senators would tend to gradually align themselves with the political dynamic at the federal level, including that of the federal-political parties. The way things have evolved in other countries, particularly in Australia, is instructive in this regard.

Several of the founders of the Australian federation thought that an elected Senate should function as a chamber of Parliament whose role would consist in representing the interests of the states within the federal legislative process. However, the resulting Australian Senate has often been criticized in that regard. As early as the 1950s, a joint parliamentary committee undertaking a constitutional review concluded that the Senate had not functioned as a chamber representing the interest of the states, but rather had been dominated by federal party politics as was the House of Representatives. For the committee:


The loyalty of senators to their parties has been largely responsible for the sublimation of the original conception of the Senate as a States' House and House of Review.


Second, the use of elections could change the nature of the Senate. An important aspect of the Senate has always been that it be sheltered from political storms and electoral ups and downs.

Elections would also change the balance between the houses of the federal Parliament. In fact, the Upper Chamber would acquire a new type of legitimacy. That legitimacy, which would be important in terms of the constitutional authority of the Senate, could become a rather delicate issue if the Senate were to include elected and non-elected senators. How would the Senate exercise its authority within that type of context? We know, for example, that the Senate has an absolute legislative veto because of the nature of the institution itself: it is an appointed chamber, which is responsible for providing a second legislative review. A balance is struck because of the very different nature of both these chambers and that balance may be changed if the Senate becomes progressively made up of elected representatives.

It is worthwhile recalling that, in the Constitution, the method of selection of senators and the authorities of the Senate are described together, and within their own paragraph, as issues that require use of the 7/50 procedure. This reflects the links between those two constitutional reform issues.

The evolution of the Senate into an elected chamber could also lead to representation demands, as is illustrated by Senator Lowell Murray's motion on representation of the west, which is also the subject of your committee's deliberations. Representation is an area that, from Quebec's point of view, raises interests with deep roots in Canadian duality and in the origins of the federation, as described in George Brown's statements that I was quoting from.

Mr. Chairman, the Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. There are therefore very good reasons for ensuring that a change in the fundamental characteristics of the Senate should not be affected by one Parliament alone but rather be part of a multilateral constitutional process.

The first of those reasons lies in the balance of our federal relations. Coordinated constitutional action is necessary because of the impact an elected Senate will have on the existing balance within this federation, and on the relationship between levels of government. The federal government cannot change that balance through measures that federal institutions alone would apply, without a broader debate on important issues related to the federal context, where the various stakeholders each have a voice. The use of a multilateral constitutional process would itself provide some of that balance, given that under a unilateral federal process, provinces would be deprived of their ability to effectively and legitimately voice their rights and interests.

The second reason lies in the very purpose of this type of process within federalism. As we all know, it is the majority that controls parliaments. The use of more complex procedures to amend the Constitution is a way of taking into account minority interests when certain intangible constitutional elements are at issue.

This enabling aspect of multilateral procedures is particularly important for the nation of Quebec, which is in a minority political situation in Canada. It is particularly important in terms of constitutional reform of federal institutions because it is in precisely those institutions that Quebecers find themselves in that minority situation.

Mr. Chairman, from the Quebec government perspective, clearly any future transformation of the Senate into an elected chamber would be an issue that should be dealt with through constitutional negotiations and not simply through unilateral federal action.

Since 1982 and even prior to that, Senate reform has essentially always been viewed as a constitutional issue requiring negotiations. Furthermore, the reform of an institution that is a fundamental component of the 1867 federal compromise should not take place without taking into account the Quebec situation. The future of the Senate fundamental characteristics must be considered within that context.

Senator Fraser: Minister, welcome to the Senate.

If normal, multilateral negotiations are required in order to undertake substantial Senate reform, would the government of Quebec be willing to begin those negotiations now?

Mr. Pelletier: Allow me to repeat that we have no problem with Bill S-4, which is presently before you.

Senator Fraser: That was my second question.

Mr. Pelletier: Obviously what we are talking about is the next stage, which, for now, is still hypothetical, a stage that would involve transforming the Senate into an elected house. That is where, in our opinion, a procedure involving complex constitutional changes and, of course, constitutional discussions, comes into play.

That in itself is not what we are asking for. In other words, we are not asking that the constitutional file be reopened. What we are saying, however, is that if the Government of Canada were to take the initiative, as an example, of raising the issue of electing senators, then we feel that that should be done within the context of multilateral constitutional negotiations.

Senator Fraser: Do you think that a public consultative process, whose purpose would be to advise the prime minister, would in fact constitute a quasi-election which would have to be negotiated with the provinces?

Mr. Pelletier: I noticed that that hypothesis had been raised before your committee. Obviously, we do not have much information about that and that, in fact, is the problem with piecemeal reform. We do not have the whole picture that would allow us to truly form an opinion.

Therefore, with the proviso that I have few details regarding such a consultation, it all depends on whether the indirect outcome will be the transformation of the Senate into an elected Senate. If that were to be the case, then the problem that I described to you would in fact arise. If there were to be other forms of consultation, then we would look at any proposal submitted to us quite closely and we would consider it with an open mind; however, at the same time, we would want to ensure that the Constitution was being fully complied with.

Senator Fraser: In terms of Bill S-4 that we have before us, you stated that Quebec is not opposed and that you believe that senators' terms should not be renewable, as several other witnesses also stated, I might add. However, I believe I understood that you do not object to eight-year terms. Is that correct?

Mr. Pelletier: Yes.

Senator Fraser: Several people pointed out to us that an eight-year term, whether renewable or not, would result in a situation where a prime minister who was elected for two terms as well would appoint all the senators. Out of interest, I consulted the history of Canada for the past century to see how many prime ministers had held eight-year terms and there were several: Mr. Laurier, Mr. Borden, Mr. King (twice), Mr. St. Laurent, Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Chrétien, would all have been able to appoint all the members of the Senate. Do you not feel that there is a danger in terms of the balance and independence of the Senate factors that seem to be very important to you, as they are to us?

Mr. Pelletier: I did indeed note that it was a concern for some senators here today, but I would honestly prefer to leave that to your discretion.

I also understood that the average tenure of a senator was between eight and nine years. I do not know if that is accurate under current rules.

Senator Fraser: I would like to clarify something. When you average it out mathematically, it is like saying that it is possible to drown in an average depth of one inch of water. If you drop the extremes, that is, every senator who has served fewer than five years, for whatever reason — and there are many reasons — or, on the other hand, senators who have served very long terms, you would find that every senator appointed in the last 25 years has served or will serve a mandate of between 10 and 20 years, and not eight, if all current senators serve until the end of their mandate.

You may or may not agree with this assessment. However, it can be misleading to consider an issue solely from a mathematical point of view.

Mr. Pelletier: At the risk of disappointing you, I would rather defer to senators on this matter. For us, Bill S-4 represents an attempt at modernizing the Senate.

Should the tenure of senators be eight, nine or ten years? That is up to you. Bill S-4 is not a problem for the government of Quebec.

Senator Angus: Welcome, Mr. Minister. We are very pleased to hear what you have to say this evening.

First, if I understood your answer to Senator Fraser's question, you are basically saying that Quebec does not object to Bill S-4. Is that correct?

Mr. Pelletier: Yes.

Senator Angus: The main issue your brief addresses is a difficult one, namely the appointment of senators. If I understand correctly, the purpose of the initiative of Mr. Harper and his team is to give Canadians the feeling that it is time to reform the Senate and that the institution indeed needs to be renewed.

First, I would like to know whether Quebec believes that this is indeed the case.

Mr. Pelletier: Senator, let me begin by saying that we believe the Senate is an important institution.

Senator Angus: That is music to our ears.

Mr. Pelletier: In the opinion of Quebec, the Senate, even in its current form, plays a useful role in the country's political life. That is our first premise.

However, we believe that the Senate needs to be modernized, updated and made even more useful. In that regard, we believe in the objective of Senate reform per se. We even believe that the Senate must be fundamentally reformed.

However, any reform must be undertaken in accordance with established constitutional rules. We completely agree with the idea of reforming the Senate so that Canadians can identify even more with this institution and so that it can better represent provincial interests. I repeat, Senate reform must be carried out according to established constitutional standards and by taking into consideration the fact that the Senate is, in a manner of speaking, an essential component of the federal compromise of 1867.

That fact that Ottawa does not have the unilateral power to change the essential character of the Senate is due to the fact that the Senate is not a strictly federal institution; it is a national institution in every sense of the word, because it lies at the confluence of federal-provincial relations.

Therefore, provinces must have a voice in any fundamental reform of the Senate.

Senator Angus: If I understand, we are talking about small changes, or touch-ups. For instance, you do not object to the changes proposed in Bill S-4. However, if more fundamental changes were contemplated, they would affect the compromise reached 140 years ago and therefore be a non-starter for you.

Since the government, rightly or wrongly, believes that change is needed to modify the current image of the Senate, because Canadians, again rightly or wrongly, believe that senators and the institution are not accountable to the country, to voters and to Canadian citizens, some small changes should be made to improve this image.

And if I understand correctly, Mr. Harper and his team want to make small changes by proposing another piece of legislation, such as Bill S-4, which would lie within the power of the federal government. The next piece of legislation would change the way senators are appointed, though not by being directly elected. There has been mention of indirect elections, a process which would create a group of people eligible for appointment, or acceptable to Canadians in general, to Quebecers and Ontarians and other Canadians. The governor in council on the advice of the Prime Minister would then appoint senators from this group.

Do you agree with this type of approach or do you think it represents a way of doing something indirectly which cannot be done directly?

Mr. Pelletier: For now, that is a hypothetical situation. We are not dealing with a bill which proposes such a thing. But you raise an interesting hypothesis. We would be perfectly willing to study the issue if ever it arose. We would examine it with an open mind, on the one hand, but we would want to make sure that any new approach respects the Constitution.

To repeat your analogy, by adding up many small changes, you might affect much more significant change. The issue is at what point do all these small changes add up to a fundamental reform of the Senate?

Senator Angus: That is precisely what I am wondering. I repeat, and I am convinced that you understand where I am coming from, that the current government believes that Canadians have a problem with the Senate — even if it is a false problem — which is a reality we have to deal with.

The party which is in power made an election promise to study the issue in good faith without however creating an imbalance between the provinces and our institutions, as well as negotiations which took place 140 years ago. The government promised to address the issue. To repeat my analogy, the government simply wants to put a new coat of paint on the house and tell Canadians not to panic because it is just a minor touch-up which will not violate any agreements with the provinces. That is: we will have a new Senate.

Mr. Pelletier: I understand exactly what you mean, Senator Angus. We are willing to study the entire matter with an open mind.

I have read and heard what was said before your committee up to today. I have noted that the intentions of the federal government were not quite clear yet, were not quite defined as far as what comes next is concerned. There has been talk of legislation to appoint elected senators, but there has also been talk of a consultation mechanism — you referred to it earlier, Senator Fraser, and rightly so.

In short, there are different scenarios to be considered which, in my opinion, are all different in scope.

Therefore, we shall examine each case as it comes up to see whether any changes can be made unilaterally by Ottawa or not. It was important for the Government of Quebec to make its voice heard on Senate reform. It is an important debate. Simultaneously, however, it must be recalled that the Senate is an institution which lies at the heart of federal-provincial relations and that it is not a strictly federal issue. The house you have described, which would receive a couple of new coats of paint, and which would receive touch-ups, is also the house of the provinces, historically speaking. This has to be taken into account whatever happens next.

Senator Dawson: To hear that we are useful is significant, especially since the comment came from a provincial intergovernmental affairs minister. The government has clearly stated that it wants to see elected senators. It will table legislation in that regard this fall. This objective was highlighted before this committee by the government leader in the Senate and by the Prime Minister. The purpose is to make the Senate more legitimate in the eyes of Canadians and Quebecers and to give it more power. Because everything is interconnected in this wonderful world, if the Senate has more power, another institution will lose power. If the House of Commons, the provinces or the Council of the Federation loses power, the Senate will jump in to fill the void.

There has also been talk about quasi-elections. This concerns us because if the tenure for senators is set at eight years, and the bill allows tenures to be renewed, there is a risk that the Senate could be entirely controlled by a single party. But if senators are elected, there is less of a risk of that happening. That would be the price to pay to elect senators.

We could go back to the former model under which Quebec would be consulted and would submit a list of names from which the Prime Minister could choose. If the Prime Minister said that he would respect Quebec's distinctiveness, and that he does not want elected senators, would he be willing to consult, as did Mr. Bourassa when he appointed our former colleague, Mr. Beaudoin, to the Senate, a list submitted by the Government of Quebec?

Do you agree with the principle that if the Senate receives more powers, someone else loses, because everything is interconnected?

When politicians become involved in something, they normally go all the way. The Prime Minister told the committee that he would elect senators. If such elections were held, do you believe he has the power to hold them on a consultative basis only?

Mr. Pelletier: If you end up with an elected Senate, irrespective of how senators are elected, it would change the purpose and the nature of the Senate. Historically, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought, a chamber of seriousness and wisdom sheltered from the ups and downs of politics, the tempest of politics. That was the initial purpose of the Senate.

If the Senate becomes a chamber of elected representatives, its original purpose would be changed. Whether this is achieved directly or indirectly, it becomes an extremely important change which must be debated within the framework of constitutional discussions. In fact, if we embark on such an undertaking, we must be aware that we would change the relationship between the Senate and the House of Commons, because we would end up with two chambers, each one of which would have democratic legitimacy.

Most of the people who have thought about an elected Senate have also thought about ways of reducing the powers of the Senate so that it would no longer be able to block legislation from the House of Commons. For instance, it could be given nothing more than a suspensive veto. This goes to the heart of constitutional procedures and amendments. We have to be fully aware of this. So this is an important issue per se. I think that we would have to carefully think about the consequences of any proposals made by the Government of Canada to see whether they would directly and indirectly change the purpose of the Senate.

I repeat: If we want to change the purpose of the Senate, we would be changing one of its essential traits, which can only be achieved through constitutional amendments.

Senator Dawson: Your counterpart from Ontario said this afternoon that, for Ontario, the issue of reviewing the distribution of powers and the role of the Senate was a non-starter. Am I to understand that you would, even though this is not necessarily your priority and you did not come here to ask us to open the issue, not be averse to debating the redistribution of powers if the issue ever came up?

Second, would you be prepared to submit a list to the Prime Minister of Canada from which he could choose the Senate nominations for six, eight or ten years?

Mr. Pelletier: We will participate in any debate on Senate reform, because we consider this institution too important for us to not express our views on the topic. We will do so with the utmost openness and the utmost dignity. The dignity that, in our opinion, this institution commands.

Second, indeed, Quebec has often put forward a model under which the Senate would become a provincial House, in other words, senators would be appointed, but based on recommendations that would be made by the provinces themselves. The goal is very simple: to enable the Canadian provinces to have a greater say in the evolution of this country. Canada is a federation, and a federation is made up of two levels of government. Those who believe in the future of Canada should be concerned with ensuring a greater respect for federalism and the principle of a federation, and should ensure that the provinces have a greater say in major decisions at the national level. Because the federal government alone does not have a monopoly over the Canadian nation, the country belongs to all Canadians.

Senator Dawson: Thank you. We will invite you back for the next step.

Senator Comeau: Mr. Minister, it is always a pleasure to see you. I greatly appreciated your openness to Bill S-4. First of all, I would like to talk about the issue of nominating senators and the concerns you have expressed with respect to reforms.

Your presentation this evening is very different from the one we heard this afternoon by your Ontario counterpart. I was disappointed with their point of view. I am happy to see that you're prepared to examine the federation from a new angle. Ontario's position seemed unusual, historically speaking.

I would like to go back to the comments made by senator Dawson who said that we would like to invite you back for our next session and have the advice you have provided this evening, to see if there are other ways of selecting senators than those that currently exist. In this case, if I were to ask you, I think that you would probably agree that it is not the most satisfactory approach in the world. I think there are ways to improve that.

Senator Dawson mentioned our good friend, former senator Gérald Beaudoin, who was appointed using the old Meech method, if I remember correctly. I always called him "my Meech colleague." There are other means of doing that.

As Acadians from Nova Scotia, we are always proud of your leadership in areas that can help us progress, such as the issue of language and minorities. I know that you are very aware of that.

Would you be prepared to come back to committee hearings on the next bill?

Mr. Pelletier: Senator, your comments are very touching, and I would be more than pleased to receive such an invitation. But you understand that I am not appearing as a individual. I represent the Quebec government and the decision is up to the Quebec cabinet.

Senator Comeau: Of course, Mr. Minister; if you could come back with the openness you have showed this evening, to move the federation forward, in accordance with the concept defined in 1867, as you indicated in your document, your presence would be very important.

Mr. Pelletier: Allow me to say this, senator: I will always take up an offer to advance Canada and the Canadian federation.

Senator Comeau: And Acadians from Nova Scotia are with you.

Mr. Pelletier: Simultaneously, I want to see the development of Quebec within Canada. That is my political objective.

Senator Comeau: We ask nothing less than that.

Senator Chaput: Welcome, Mr. Minister. It is always a pleasure to see you. I want to support what my colleague Senator Comeau has said. We appreciate what you are doing to support the development and promotion of francophone communities outside Quebec. I want to say that we are extremely grateful for this, we appreciate it and we thank you.

In your opinion, Bill S-4 is not really a problem. There is a specific defined mandate but it is not renewable. It is quite simple, in your opinion, and I would agree with this.

The next bill that will come before us — and this is hypothetical but perhaps more than just a hypothesis because the Prime Minister talked to us about it when he appeared before the committee — concerns an elected Senate. How? We do not know but there is no doubt that this bill will address the process.

I am from Manitoba and you are well aware that the governing party, the NDP, currently has no use for the Senate in its current form. I have been corresponding with the government and if we do consider an elected Senate, perhaps then, at that time, the government would be a bit quicker to see the purpose of a Senate.

I informed the government that electing senators does not necessarily mean that the Senate would be as representative as it is now, and we discussed the membership of the Senate. How will we ensure that Aboriginals, francophones living in minority communities within Manitoba, and other groups are represented? I realize that when the Prime Minister appoints senators there is no guarantee of this either; it is almost accidental, but the fact remains that this still happens. Representatives of minorities sit on the Senate, as do representatives of official language minority communities and a rather high proportion of women.

All this to say, Mr. Minister, that I have some concerns about an elected Senate. Given the minority situation in Manitoba, will we lose another voice as a result? How can we elect a senator to represent Franco-Manitobans when we are a minority? It is almost impossible.

I have put the same question on a number of occasions to other witnesses, and no one seems to have an answer. I would like us to find a solution. But there is not one, is there?

Mr. Pelletier: No, and your concerns are not unfounded. I saw that this issue had been raised during your debates and in fact there is the issue of ensuring that minority groups, aboriginal people, francophones living in the minority communities, are represented. As you said, this is in fact a problem.

That is why, earlier, in my presentation on behalf of the Quebec government, we set out some guidelines for a future Senate reform when I said: Any future Senate reform must take into consideration, above all, Quebec's specific interests, which are historic ones; second, Canadian duality; and thirdly, minority interests.

I think that if we keep that in mind any reforms will be in much greater harmony with what Canada truly is and what Canada needs to be in 2006.

Senator Fraser: I must say that all this is extremely interesting, Mr. Pelletier; as an English-speaking Quebecer, I am also happy to hear that. I would like to come back to the issue of elections and consultations. This time, I am not asking for your opinion as a constitutionalist, because it is true that we do not yet have the bill, but rather for your thoughts, based on your political experience, because you are also a politician.

It is true that when Bill S-4 was introduced in the Senate, we were told several times that the bill was the first phase in a series of other reforms, and that the next step would be based on an elected Senate which should follow very soon.

It is also true that when the Prime Minister appeared before this committee, he chose his words more carefully, perhaps, and he even talked about public consultation.

My question is essentially a political one: During public consultations, namely during an election, voters assume that their choices will be respected. Is it politically feasible for someone seeking to get re-elected to create a system of public consultation, the results of which, we know from the very beginning, will not be respected?

Mr. Pelletier: All of this is purely hypothetical, as everyone is aware.

Senator Fraser: That is why my question is more of a political one, rather than a legal one.

Mr. Pelletier: I would not be surprised to see the Prime Minister use his discretion when appointing senators to the Senate. In fact, it relates to the Governor General's discretion, but everybody knows that, for all intents and purposes, it is the Prime Minister who carries out this duty. However, what I am saying is that the effects must be measured. Without having studied the proposal, I do not believe that we can indirectly carry out what the Constitution prohibits us from doing directly, that is change the way senators are selected and above all transform the very vocation of the Senate by making it a House of elected officials.

Senator Angus: The issue of abolishing the Senate has been raised frequently in recent times; is this a realistic option for Quebec?

Mr. Pelletier: It is not our preference. We would much prefer seeing the Senate one day become a house representing the provinces, and better representing regional interests. I repeat that I believe, along with my colleagues, in the usefulness of this institution. Abolishing the Senate is not one of the choices before us, as far as we are concerned.

Senator Angus: The Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform is currently studying Bill S-4, in addition to a motion to amend the Constitution to change the representation of western provinces in the Senate. Given that Canada's demographics have changed considerably in the last 140 years, it has not come as a surprise to hear that the loudest noise being made in favour of reform is coming from out west, because western representation seems unfair in the current context.

To your mind, it is necessary to review the entire issue of representation, because by doing so, we are dealing with the very nature of the Senate. Have you considered any other way of changing regional representation?

Mr. Pelletier: Are you talking about Senator Murray's motion?

Senator Angus: Yes, or another one.

Mr. Pelletier: Any changes made to the number of senators appointed for each province clearly refers to the 7/50 model. I will not hide the fact that Quebec is against seeing the number of its senators reduced. That does not come as a surprise to anyone. Obviously, Quebec is adamant about keeping the same number of Quebec senators that represent it.

Senator Angus: Therefore, should there be a constitutional conference, will the position of the Government of Quebec be to keep the status quo?

Mr. Pelletier: We never know how constitutional discussions will unfold. During the Charlottetown Agreement debate, Quebec had agreed to reduce the number of its senators, in exchange for obtaining 25 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.

During constitutional negotiations, everything depends on reciprocal concessions and the overall balance between these different concessions. I cannot comment on such a hypothesis, if only to tell you that Quebec is extremely reluctant to see the number of Quebec senators reduced.

Senator Angus: Much has been discussed about Quebec's anomaly — its 24 special districts which represent 24 ridings of the Quebec Legislative Council. I represent Alma and must own property worth $4,000. Today, this requirement seems nonsensical because the 24 ridings do not encompass the far north of Quebec, and residents of that region are not represented. This is the type of representational change that would improve the situation in Quebec. I am not a native of Quebec, but that is where I live. I am a hardliner and I represent Quebecers whose first language is English. However, I wonder if it is still fundamental for a senator to own property worth $4,000, given today's context.

Mr. Pelletier: I cannot give you an answer on that topic because we did not consider that. However, I did notice that Mr. Hogg, during his September 20, 2006 testimony, said that a certain number of subjects were not dealt with in section 44. He said:


The powers of the Senate cannot be touched, the method of selecting senators cannot be touched, the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented cannot be touched and the residence qualifications of senators cannot be touched.


As you can see, even the small details provoke legal debates.

Senator Angus: That is a good answer. Thank you very much, Minister.

The Chairman: Minister, I wish to thank you for your very clear and concise presentation on Quebec's position. Perhaps I should not be the one asking you the following question, being a senator from Alberta, but I am curious nonetheless.

In Quebec, ridings have been represented in the same way since 1867; this representation is clearly not modern. Bill S-4 is one step among many that the government is planning to take with a view to modernizing the Senate.

Perhaps this step is necessary before establishing a more modern and national Upper Chamber. What is your position on this topic?

Mr. Pelletier: Honourable senators, we have not studied that particular issue, but will do so if need be. Historically speaking, ridings in Quebec were protected to ensure anglophone representation in the Senate. We would have to see whether or not abolishing certain provisions could be done smoothly, or on the contrary raise specific problems.

For now, lacking more answers to give you, I would say that this is what still makes Quebec a particular case. But I say this subject to closer analysis on my part.

The Chairman: Negotiations are needed on this subject. Senator Fraser has another question.

Senator Fraser: Senator Chaput talked about the possibility of not abolishing Quebec ridings, but creating new ones for minorities in other provinces. Do you find this idea to be farfetched?

Mr. Pelletier: I have not studied it but to my mind, this idea deserves to be considered carefully. Since we are talking about valid reforms, I believe that everything must be put on the table.

The Chairman: Once again, thank you for your very valuable and much appreciated presentation.

Honourable senators, we are going to hold a brief meeting in camera, starting in five minutes.

The committee adjourned.